With such burgeoning numbers of self-identified non-heterosexual people, it's troubling that stigmas and misconceptions surrounding bisexuality and pansexuality are very much alive and well. As well as the usual accusations of “bi now, gay later”, and the assumption that bi people are more prone to infidelity, men and women face other woes, specific to their gender, when trying to defend their bisexuality in the black-or-white society we live in.
“For example, in the media, people on soap operas and the like are often presented as having gone from straight to gay or vice versa. There's no understanding that they might be bisexual, even though bisexuals are the biggest group under the LGBT umbrella.”
Almost anyone who identifies as bi will likely remember the times someone has told them they’ll “get over it”, but, in case you can’t empathise from personal experience, its not hard to find examples of celebrities having their identities questioned (or ignored) in the public eye. This ranges from Cara Delevingne having Vogue describe her bisexuality as a phase, to known bi advocates, such as actor Alan Cummings, being repeatedly described as "gay" in accordance to their current partner’s gender.
Bisexual women are often assumed to be in it to titillate men, whereas bisexual men are assumed to be gay men who are not brave enough to come out as gay
These occurrences of daily biphobia and bi erasure can generate a very complicated scenario to land in for those coming to terms with their sexuality today, for someone of any gender. And yet, although women are twice as likely to identify as bisexual, it’s necessary to question if that’s because there really are less bisexual men around, or if men are simply less likely to identify as bi or go outside of the gay-or-straight binary because of social expectations – like the expectation that a man's masculinity is contingent on his heterosexuality.
Diego, a 21-year-old bisexual man, has experienced this double standard first hand. “For two and a half years of high school, I was in a serious relationship with a girl who was my first love, so trying to juggle that while still knowing I felt something for men was difficult. I didn’t have any resources to turn to at the time, or, more accurately, I didn’t seek them out."
He continues: “The initial responses have varied from the people I’ve dated. For example, a guy I dated in February didn’t really give much of a response; he was completely understanding from the start. As opposed to a girl I dated last year, where the idea of being bisexual really didn’t rub her the right way. She said it was hard for her to grasp the idea of me being able to do that. We didn’t last long after that. I think people think a bisexual man is just a gay man. Or that a bisexual man is confused. I haven’t seen this preconception being projected upon women as much as it is toward men."
Julia, who dated a bisexual man when she was 19, remembers going through similar worries: “I was really young at the time so I guess I think I felt a bit like I had to impress him more… as if I was up against more competition. As if I had to assert the good bits of my femininity ‘just in case’. I think that says more about me maybe having been a bit insecure rather than anything to do with him, though.”
In the job market, there are lots of worries faced by bi men that relate back to a significant part of your identity being misunderstood. “The questions that are always on my mind when talking about my sexuality at work concern authenticity – am I seen as a “proper” member of the LGBT community? Am I seen as less bisexual now because my partner is a woman?” says Dominic, a bisexual man who works at LGBTQ organisation Stonewall UK.
“While I’m comfortable being out at Stonewall, in past jobs I have been concerned that people would equate bisexuality with hyper-sexuality and hedonism. I was concerned that I would not be taken as seriously as a professional, and for those reasons I have never previously been out at work.”
It’s not all horrible news though: the times are changing. “In the 1980s and 90s bisexual men were generally only represented in the media as evil predators”, says Meg-John. “In the 2000s bi invisibility was common. Research was published – and widely publicised – which claimed that bisexual men were 'gay, straight, or lying'. However, in the last decade the researchers re-visited that study and found that there certainly are men who are bisexual.”
People who identify as bi are a prime example of parts of our community that often face dual discrimination and further marginalisation
With bi interviewees pointing to icons such as Placebo’s Brian Molko or Skins’ Tony Stonem as paramount to the introduction of bi identity to their lives, it’s clear that removing “bisexual” from TV and entertainments’ list of “dirty words" is of major importance.
“I think we need to carve out a space for ourselves in LGBT culture. But then I'm not sure how that would come about, because ultimately the 'bisexual' label brings together a wide array of very different people of all genders”, says Adam*, 25 “I think just more visible bisexual celebrities from all walks of life would be a good start. That way we can show that this is a very diverse community, and some of us are promiscuous, yes, but some of us have families.”
Ultimately, community is the most important part. “Do not let anyone tell you that there is no such thing as being bi. That you have to choose. Or that you're not "really" bi if you don’t like both men and women exactly the same way”, says Antoine, 29. “And whatever the label you identify as (be it bisexual, pansexual), remember: you're not alone.”
For support, check out BiUK's website here, and Stonewall's here.